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Heating upgrade preserves Vermont inn's historic charm

Converting to propane for space heating and water heating saved owner Phil Guilpin thousands of dollars while providing a more comfortable experience for his guests.

By Selby Frame
Staff Writer

The historic West Dover Inn in southern Vermont has been dishing up New England hospitality since it was built as a stage coach stop and tavern in 1846. Located just two miles from Mt. Hood, a popular ski destination, the restored inn now features 12 luxury accommodations, a tavern, and a gourmet 55-seat restaurant.

The inn's historic charm threatened to wear thin, however, after Hurricane Irene swept through in 2011, damaging the inn's lower level. Three 80-gallon electric tank water heaters, already causing electric bills to soar, were damaged and running at only 35 percent capacity, prompting complaints from guests who experienced sudden spikes in water temperature. Smells wafted up from the basement, where an antiquated, leaky oil boiler pumped out uneven baseboard heat and hit inn owner Phil Guilpin with a whopping $2,000 monthly oil bill over the winter.

Guilpin hired an energy estimator to look at system replacements. "Instead of replacing the water heater and oil burner separately, we decided to do the whole thing with propane," Guilpin says. "Now we use propane for heat, hot water, and fireplaces. And we run everything in our kitchen off of propane. Gas in the kitchen cooks better."

After just one winter, the inn's utility bill savings from the propane conversion have been startling. "I can tell you some numbers just off the top of my head that are amazing," Guilpin says. "Last winter we spent a grand total of $12,000 on oil and were spending about $2,000 a month on electricity. This year, we spent nothing on oil, and we saved anywhere from $550 to $850 a month on our electric bill. Our propane bill only went up slightly."

West Dover Inn owner Phil Guilpin replaced costly electric water heaters and a smelly oil boiler with a clean, energy-efficient propane heating system.
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In addition to space heating and water heating, the West Dover Inn uses propane to fuel its guest room fireplaces and cooking in its 55-seat gourmet restaurant.
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Guilpin converted the heating to an HTP Elite 220 modulating condensing boiler with an AFUE rating of 94.2 paired with two 60-gallon SuperStor Ultra Commercial indirect water heaters. The existing 500-gallon propane storage tank was replaced with a 1,000-gallon tank, with fittings installed to accommodate an additional tank if needed.

"Nobody knew if one boiler would be big enough to handle the requirements of this house in the winter, with the restaurant running from 6 a.m. to midnight, 12 guest rooms with the heat on, and 15 bathrooms going," Guilpin says. The installer put in piping for a second boiler, just in case, but the existing system has more than met demand, even during peak season.

"It's not a big boiler, but it's amazing how it works," Guilpin says. "It is cleaner. We didn't have one complaint this winter. Everyone commented that the house heated differently; it just felt better." Six of the guest rooms already have gas fireplaces, and with the increased propane capacity, plans are in the works to add fireplaces to more rooms.

The inn's propane tank levels are monitored remotely, a reassuring feature for the inn's mountainous location. "It's nice because they can tell what we're using and schedule the [propane] deliveries around that," Guilpin says.

The innkeepers were able to finance the conversion with a $30,000 loan from the Small Business Administration. Estimated payback period is two years, and if the coming winter isn't extraordinarily cold, Guilpin thinks they may trim as much as six months off that target.

"My fellow innkeepers were watching this place like a hawk when we were putting this in," weighing conversions of their own, Guilpin says, chuckling. "It really is impressive."

To learn more about energy-efficient propane retrofits, check out these Propane Energy Update articles:

Heating upgrade preserves Vermont inn’s historic charm
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